Analyst: U.S. Overtures Highlight Divisions In Iran President Obama sent a video message to Iran on Nowruz, the Persian New Year, seeking to ease long-strained relations between the two nations. Iranian-American analyst Karim Sadjadpour says the Iranian community in neighboring Dubai seemed heartened by Obama's message — and disappointed in Iran's response.
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Analyst: U.S. Overtures Highlight Divisions In Iran

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Analyst: U.S. Overtures Highlight Divisions In Iran

Analyst: U.S. Overtures Highlight Divisions In Iran

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

Experts are also closely watching Iran and in recent days, they've been following the words of two national leaders. One is Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. When he spoke about the United States over the weekend, an Iranian-American analyst was listening.

Mr. KARIM SADJADPOUR (Carnegie Endowment for International Peace): I used to kind of make fun of those friends of mine who used to nitpick Khamenei's speech and analyze them very carefully, but I think that's actually where we should be looking.

INSKEEP: So that's one leader being followed by the analyst Karim Sadjadpour. The other leader is the president of the United States, who sent a video message to Iran on Navroz, the Persian New Year.

President BARACK OBAMA: For nearly three decades, relations between our nations have been strained. But at this holiday, we are reminded of the common humanity that binds us together.

INSKEEP: That was part of the president's message on Friday. Our analyst Karim Sadjadpour, of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, is just back from Dubai, which is near Iran and home to many Iranians. We asked him to deconstruct the messages, starting with President Obama's.

Mr. SADJADPOUR: It was definitely a departure from past U.S. approaches toward Iran, in the sense that Obama addressed the Islamic Republic of Iran, which is kind of a subtle acknowledgement of the revolution and the leadership and the people all at the same time. He didn't try to create divisions amongst the leadership. The response amongst the Iranian community in Dubai was seemingly universally positive. I spoke to one young man who was just very heartened that the president of the most powerful nation on Earth knew what the Persian New Year was, knew when Navroz was, and they were disappointed in the response of their own leadership.

They said, the president has chose to make this warm gesture towards us, and all our leaders have to say to him is, first change your actions, and then we're ready to talk. They thought that the response of the Iranian leadership was kind of not representative of the will of the people.

INSKEEP: What about the government, and especially the supreme leader, who would make the final decision on a foreign policy issue, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei?

Mr. SADJADPOUR: I think he's in a bit of a difficult position right now, because on one hand, he probably recognizes deep down that the day when Iran opens up to the United States, the rhetoric of the last 30 years, the death-to-America culture has somehow got to change. And that could well up - open up the floodgates for greater types of change, which could be threatening to his leadership. On the other hand, he is presiding over a population which is very young. They don't remember the revolution. They don't remember the times of the shah. And those who have access to what's going on elsewhere in the world are really tired of this adversarial relationship with the United States and want to see Iran emerge from its self-inflicted isolation.

And I think what the Obama administration is doing now with these overtures is accentuating the internal divisions within Iran between those who want to continue this enmity of the past three decades, and those who recognize that it's time to move on.

INSKEEP: Khamenei gave a speech in Mashhad in eastern Iran over the weekend, in which he said, among many other things, that he was dubious that there had not been any substantive change from the United States. And then he said, if you change your policies, then we might be able to change. You guys go first.

Mr. SADJADPOUR: That's right. When you listen to Iranian leaders, what they will say is that we don't want simply a change of rhetoric. We want to see some concrete changes, and they asked the U.S. to unfreeze Iranian assets in the U.S., to remove the sanctions. And they always say that the U.S. seems to change its unconditional support for Israel. I will tell you, Steve, it's kind of a vicious circle. The Iranians ask the Americans to make these concrete changes before they reciprocate, and they don't want to make any compromises up front, because they believe that it could project weakness.

And I think from the U.S. vantage point, there's a similar mindset. The United States wants to first see changed Iranian behavior before they do the things that Teheran is asking for. But with that being said, the Obama administration has made an effort to kind of try to change the tone in the context of the relationship. And I think there has been reached, up to three decades now, an internal consensus within Washington that it's time to talk to Teheran. But I don't think that the Iranians have reached that same internal consensus.

INSKEEP: Karim Sadjadpour, of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Thanks very much.

Mr. SADJADPOUR: Thank you, Steve.

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